The governor of Delaware vetoed legislation that would have removed penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and older.
The legislation – House Bill 371 – cleared the House and Senate with supermajorities but Gov. John Carney’s move was nonetheless widely expected as he has a longstanding opposition to marijuana legalization or any softening of Delaware’s cannabis laws.
“I have been clear about my position since before I took office,” Carney wrote in a message accompanying his veto. “I do not believe that promoting or expanding the use of recreational marijuana is in the best interests of the state of Delaware, especially our young people.”
The bill wouldn’t change existing cannabis possession laws for minors. Such offenses are considered a civil violation sanctioned with counseling rather than a fine.
Carney’s stance on the issue makes him an outlier among Democratic governors, but he maintains there are too many unknowns to pursue cannabis reform.
“Questions about the long-term health and economic impacts of recreational marijuana use, as well as serious law enforcement concerns, remain unresolved,” he continued in his statement.
Given the measure was approved by the legislature with supermajorities, it is still possible the General Assembly could act to override the governor’s veto but this has historically been a very rare occurrence in Delaware. The last time the legislature successfully overrode the governor was in 1977, while the last attempt at overriding a veto was back in 1990.
Rep. Ed Osienski, the sponsor of HB 371, said Carney’s veto decision is all the more disappointing given that he could have set his opposition to one side and allowed the bill to become law absent his signature.
“Unfortunately,” Osienski said, “the governor has chosen to ignore the will of residents and a bipartisan super majority of the General Assembly by vetoing HB 371.”
Sens. Trey Paradee and Dave Sokola issued a joint statement in response to Carney’s decision, arguing it “will not stop adults from consuming marijuana, it will help to preserve the illegal drug market created by 50 years of prohibition and criminalization that historically has been unjustly and inequitably applied to communities of color.”
Meanwhile, in another setback for cannabis reform in Delaware, a bill to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana sales – House Bill 372 – was defeated by just one vote in the House.
It’s still possible the measure will be voted on again after the legislative recess, since one of the supporters of the bill was unable to attend due to illness.
It would still face a tough time in the Senate though, as any proposal to establish new taxes in Delaware requires a three-fifths supermajority in the Senate in order to pass.